Attitudes of an effective delegator – Never sanction imcompetence

One-rotten-apple-spoils-the-Whole-BunchWhenever I hire a new employee, as part of their orientation I am always careful to emphasize that it would be a wrong to mistake my forbearance for indifference, that while I am long-suffering and will give them time to learn the ropes, there are standards to be reached and maintained.

One of the most ineffective positions leaders take is to sanction incompetence. Now by that I am not suggesting that there is no room for error or that no one is ever allowed to make mistakes. When we sanction incompetence we support or approve of a pattern of incompetence where incompetence is ‘manifesting the inability to carry out a task or responsibility.’ And we often sanction it.

How We Sanction Incompetence

  1. When one person is allowed substandard performance to continue unchecked. People will make mistakes; sometimes they make lots of them. We sanction incompetence when we do nothing about it.
  2. Allowing associates and employees to mistake forbearance for indifference. Again this calls for a response on our part. To do nothing is to manifest indifference.
  3. Failure to confront or reluctance to confront soon enough. Confrontation is never pleasant but it is part of the job. Everything we do messages something. Failure to address incompetence soon enough telegraphs to everyone that standards are negotiable. They aren’t or at least they shouldn’t be.
  4. Blindness to suckups and kissups. This seems to be a particular failing of leaders. And some associates are really good at it. But others can see it even if you can’t and the result is confusion, resentment, and loss of respect for us as leaders.
  5. Allowing personal relationships and feeling to cloud the nature of business. We are sometimes reluctant to deal with incompetence because the incompetent person is so nice. But we have objectives to reach and standards to maintain.
  6. Robbing strength to pay for weakness. This is particularly deadly. Effective delegators simply do not ever compensate for the failures of one by taking from another.

This is about being able to find others who will extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work. Incompetence compromises all three. Here is a list of 6 tests to determine if we are sanctioning incompetence:

Question #1 – Have you settled in your thinking and behavior that the demands and criteria you must establish are strictly business? You should possess with some reasonable clarity what will be the successful outcome of an employee’s engagement with your company. It might be easily measured by profit margins. It might be counted by widgets made in a measured amount of time. It might be in the capacity to determine what needs to be done and make sure it is done. A friend once recommended that I hire a friend of his because the man was having a hard time adjusting to adult life and needed a father figure to help him along. My response? My business is not a therapy center and I am not a therapist. Therapy is costly, too costly for me (or you) to absorb just to “help people along.” You are in business, your organization exists to pursue and eventually realize the stated objectives, not provide work therapy for troubled individuals.

Question #2 – How well do you and your associates attack the problems brought to you by your customers? All businesses and non-profits are problem solving entities. We exist to resolve an issue or issues. We fix problems brought to us by our clients and customers. This is easy to see in repair or service companies. It is less obvious in other companies but true nonetheless. In my millwork business, I educated all my employees that we are problem-solving people. A client needs something made or installed to satisfy functional or aesthetic problems, usually both, and it is up to us to do it. Further, in creating that resolution, your employees will encounter numerous problems to overcome – understanding the intent, engineering a workable design, devising a logical and safe sequence to produce the resolution, finding and sourcing the materials and components necessary to make it happen. You do not need, and cannot tolerate, excuses. You need results and that is what you pay for.

Queston #3 – Do your employees solve more problems than they create? If an employee or an associate is creating more issues than they solve, the indications that they are in the wrong position grow more pointed.

Question #4 – Do you underwrite and support work that falls short of the standard? You can excuse incompetence but you must never sanction it. Never, and I mean never rob from strength to pay for weakness. One of my more successful failures was a brief venture in a partnership. It was a door and window manufacturing company. My part of the deal was to be the front man. I did the marketing, met with clients, and sold products. Our very first job was for several windows and doors, all of hardwood. I turned the order over to my business partner whose job it was to oversee the manufacture of the products. In due time the components were delivered to the client who then called me the next day. He was not happy. I visited the jobsite and discovered why. Honestly, any high school woodshop class could have turned out a better product. I brought back one of the defective windows, set it up on the bench, and gathered the crew.

“This is what we are turning out,” I showed them the window.

They looked it over and incredibly said, “What’s wrong with it?”

I then showed them item by item the flaws and there were many.

My business partner then countered, “Well, we can’t do any better.”

“Then,” I argued, “we can’t be in this business.”

Soon thereafter I sold my shares and moved on because it became very clear that the manufacturing side indeed could not do any better. In a short time the company was out of business. Be frank, be honest, be frankly honest in your assessments of performance. Some people are excruciatingly nice but they may not be up to the job. The decisions to be made are business ones. We are surrounded by incompetence because we sanction it. Margins of error can become very broad highways for incompetence if we let them. If you are required to go back over an associate’s work, to continually monitor their performance, to run them down and demand accountability, there is a problem and if won’t go away by itself. You might be able to fix it by more training. But if you try that and fail, it’s time to make the hard business decision.

Question #5 – Do your employees or associates mistake forbearance for indifference? You may be patient, tolerant of error, slow to react, willing to invest time and effort to bring someone along. However, make sure all your associates know that your forbearance should not be taken to signal indifference. If you continually ignore poor performance, missed goals, and failed attempts, if you set a standard but do not enforce it your associates and employees will lose respect for you and exploit what they assess to be weakness. I fired a manager because I am serious about the standards required by this business and I intend to make certain they are in place.

Question #6 – Do you play fair? Demand the same principled level of performance of everyone. Never let one get away with neglecting in one what is required of another. This fosters the concept that a good ole boy system is in place and truthfully, if you do favor one over another, a good ole boy system is indeed in place.

Attitudes of an Effective Delegator #2 – Gratefulness

gratefulnessThis week’s entry just happens to coincide with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a once-a-year day set aside to be thankful for the bounty we have enjoyed. Originally it signaled the end of the harvest season when crops were gathered from the fields. Most Americans no longer farm but the day has remained one of the most significant and important holidays on the calendar.

We tend to look at the attributes of leadership in management terms – organizing, directing, overseeing and the like. But effective leaders are also skilled in the more intangible attributes. This one – gratefulness – has so much to do with the perspective one holds of others and the way one handles them.

We handle things of value with greater care and attention than we do things of little value. We don’t throw jewels on the floor. We throw rubbish there. We don’t handle breakable things roughly, we handle them with care.

So it is with the attitude of gratefulness. I seldom use dictionary definitions but this one is particularly relevant. Gratefulness is defined as “warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.”

Note especially focus – “appreciative of benefits received.”

In my Facebook yesterday there appeared a meme from the Zig Ziglar Company. It said “You can do anything, but you cannot do everything.”

True. We can and we can’t. Most leaders are multi-talented individuals capable of great achievement. But that very attribute, the ability to do just about anything, often trips us up. We try to do too much by ourselves, overcommit to responsibilities, and get caught in the whirlwind of trying to keep up. That’s where delegation comes in.

“Appreciative of benefits received”

Effective delegators are thankful for what others can do. They accept their personal limitations which opens the door to finding others to do for them what they cannot do for or by themselves.

Effective delegators understand that others are more than people who do things. Those things those others do provide considerable benefit to everyone. The objectives of the company or organization are furthered. Progress is realized. Profit is gained.

Understand what others cannot do. We can’t do everything, neither can anyone else. Everyone has limited time, talent, and energy. Effective delegators know that and work within the bounds of those limits. Motivators, and by that I mean leaders who are good at unleashing energy and enthusiasm in others, know that the most efficient and effective means of unleashing others is to focus in on what they are good at doing. We all have times when we have to do things we’d rather not, but over time we all tend to rise in fields of personal ability. It’s impossible to be grateful if you focus on another’s inabilities.

Avoid resentment. Too many leaders resent the time, effort, and money it takes to employ others. Failing to fully appreciate the benefits received by the labor of others, some leaders become irritated at what it takes to train employees or associates, at the money they must pay them. Effective delegators don’t work for nothing and they accept that others don’t either. There’s an old proverb that says “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” Equating employees and associates to oxen may be a bit insensitive, but you get the idea. Yes it takes time, yes it costs money, but the benefits received are worth the expense.

Don’t assume others know how you feel or what you think. Just as we set aside one day a year here in the US to be particularly thankful, find a time in your schedule to express appreciation. Gratefulness does almost no good if it remains locked up.

So, let me be thankful to you. There are lots of places you could spend your time and lots of things to read out there. I’m thankful you’ve stopped by here today.

Now, why not pass on how you feel about those who help you?

Attitudes of an Effective Delegator #1 – Others are Smart, Responsible, & Capable

controlledWe recently fired an employee and did so reluctantly. She was a hard worker, had a very low absentee rate, and clients liked her. But in the end there was one attitude and its corresponding action that tipped the scales away from retention and towards outplacement as termination is euphemistically termed these days.

She patently distrusted everyone about everything. To hear her talk, and she talked a lot, no one on the entire team was competent except herself. Whoever worked before her or after her had screwed things up and heaven help anyone who worked with her because she rode them mercilessly, criticizing everything they did.

No one was ever good enough. No one ever did it right.

At least that was her attitude.

Productivity suffered as did quality. The result was dissension, resentment, and enmity in the team which could not be tolerated.

Now, she wasn’t actually a leader per se, so we could object that her experience is an isolated one. But you and I know that it isn’t. The same principles apply. The same dynamics engage.

Effective delegators possess one common attitude – they do not believe that others are inherently incompetent, irresponsible, or contumacious. Others may not be trained fully. They may be trained differently than you. But that does not and should not equate to an incapacity to help at all.


So, let’s reorient the story to the leader of a small office on the west coast. There were a dozen or so people who worked there. The leader of the company distrusted them all. He instituted a stringent and rigid schedule of checkpoints and sign-offs that resulted in complete bottleneck at his desk. He had to check everything.

Well, he really didn’t have to check everything. He just thought he had to. He was not an effective delegator.


Then there is the final story. Mark ran an office of about 40 people. He spent most of his time recruiting the right people (more about that in a future post. It is one of the hallmarks of an effective delegator), in articulating and defining vision for the company,  and inspiring others in their pursuit of that vision. The result was an explosion of activity and productivity.

Effective delegators have the attitude that others can and will do the right thing if they understand what the objective is and believe they have the wiggle room to create. Unlike the woman mentioned at the beginning or the ineffective fellow mentioned after, the results will be amazing.


I am told that some pilots create more turbulence than is actually there by trying to control the plane too much. Airplanes move up and down, side to side, and still fly quite well. Larger planes are more forgiving, but most of what we do is done in slammer settings so the principle is particularly relevant. When we do not understand the dynamics of movement and motion, when we do not allow for some variance, when we try to rigidly manipulate control devices in fear that something will go wildly out of control, we create more turbulence than is actually there.

There is no such thing as a perfectly smooth journey. Effective delegators understand that and relax at the controls. Not abandon them. Relax.

You’ve got good people with you and around you. Let them do their job.

The Attitudes of an Effective Delegator

delegating“He was a very hard worker but not a good delegator,” said the consultant. Sitting across the table from the president and vice-president of the company he was advising, that consultant had been hired every year for the past five years to update the business plan for the year. Under new leadership, the company was enjoying a remarkable turnaround seeing levels of activity and progress not evident for almost a decade.

As the numbers began to improve, the consultant made the observation that the previous president was a very hard worker (he was indeed) and a very nice man (also true), but that he had not been an effective delegator.

If you’ve been in leadership for very long you have undoubtedly had a class or two on the subject, read a book or two on it, and encountered effective delegators and ineffective ones.

I have as well.

Your experience might be different but most of the classes and books I read poorly served the subject of delegating because it focused on the act of delegating, the process of making assignments. So we are taught to find people we can give jobs to and then give them away.

But it doesn’t work quite that simply. The president mentioned above didn’t have much trouble giving jobs away, but failed miserably at it. The reasons why, and the observant remark of that consultant have provoked this new series at The Practical Leader.

So for the next several posts we will be exploring the attitudes and beliefs of an effective delegator.  Delegation is more than making assignments. Effective delegation is an assemblage of nuanced attitudes and actions for which ultimate success depends on the ability to employ the right actions for the right reasons at the right time.

So what are they?

Come back in on Monday, November 16th for the first installment.

Stuck in 1st gear – is the impediment to progress you?

stuck in 1stIt happens easily enough and usually innocently enough. You start a business or organization then endure what is often a long and expensive learning curve. Along the way you learn…you learn a lot. You discover the competencies and incompetencies of those working with you. You learn how to manage cash flow challenges. You learn the ins and outs, the ups and downs of business in the real world.

In a few years the business or organization begins to prosper. By then your role should change from working in your business to having more time to work on your business.

But too often it doesn’t. The business (I use this term in a very broad sense. Even nonprofits are enterprises with a mission to accomplish and must function in just about every sense as a business. The only differences are that the excess revenues received are not distributable to anyone except in the form of salaries paid for work performed) begins to prosper and could expand to another level but something seems to be holding it back.

Could it be you?

How, you object? Because holding on to authority means letting go of responsibility. Notice I did not say shirking responsibility. I said letting go of responsibility. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my early developmental years in leadership is to discover what things, what jobs, what tasks, what responsibilities faced me that only I could do…and giving everything else away.


May I direct your eyes to the banner of this website for just a few seconds? You may have to scroll the page up, especially if you’re reading on a smartphone or tablet. What does it say just under “The Practical Leader?”

It says “Extend Your Reach – Multiply Your Effectiveness – Divide Your Work.”

But too many of us are stuck with limited reach, divided effectiveness and multiplied work…and we’ve done it to ourselves. Like a car stuck in first gear, your journey consumes way too much fuel, makes way too much noise, and takes way to long to get there.


Because one of the key responsibilities resting upon you is the need to empower and release others. To make more leaders. But you won’t be able to do that if you see them as inept and incapable or if you regard them as a threat.

Your role is not to monitor others but to mentor them. This assumes the following:

  1. That you are secure enough in your position as leader that you can share the work and the credit. Insecure leaders seem to be attention hogs.
  2. That you are attentive to who you hire. You have identified your limitations and hire others for their strength to compensate for your weakness.
  3. That you are willing to pass on what you’ve learned to others.
  4. That you will not allow paranoia to stifle the growth of your company or organization.

You can stop right where you are. In fact if you do you are not alone. Thousands of businesses are stymied simply because their owners/leaders cannot or will not shift gears.

Now, by this point I usually get some pushback from leaders who complain that they have no one they can trust, that if they didn’t monitor everything that goes on the whole company would fall into chaos, that every person they’ve ever tried to employ has disappointed them.

They are, of course, quite incorrect. They are either control freaks or they are unable to grow. Will others fail? Yes, but then so do you. Will others disappoint? Yes, but then so will you. Perfection and 100% economy and efficiency is a myth. You don’t meet that standard and no one else will either. It is no reason and cannot be legitimized to excuse oneself from mentoring.

Never forget what your role really is. It is not to make sure everyone does things right. It is to make sure that you… and everyone else… stays focused on the vision and does the right things.

You there, yes you, the leader of your company or organization. Do only those things that only you can do. Mentor others so you can give everything else away.

Developing Capable People – Fatal Flaw #3 – Carbon Copies


carboncopyThe line just under the title in the banner at the top of this page reads “Extend Your Reach, Multiply Your Effectiveness, Divide Your Work.” The objective of developing capable people is to expand your influence, get more done, and do less of the grunt work yourself.

It would seem to logically follow that the way to do this would be to raise up a cadre of others who are clones of yourself. After all, the logic would propose, if I can get this much done, lots more people like me can get lots more done.

But that is not the best use of your time and certainly not the best use of your effort nor in the end will it work very well. The reason you need to extend your reach is because there are people and opportunities that you cannot reach. And you cannot reach them because of who you are and how you do things.

Now, before you start to object, let me explain. We all have a set of unique gifts and an individual personality. Time and its experiences have honed the gifts and shaped the personality. We are therefore capable of doing some things very well and not doing others very well at all. We are amiable to some people and not so much to others. We attract some and repel others. Therefore, we need other people to complement us, to get where we cannot.

We are limited not only by time and energy. We are limited by gifts and personality even though our personal gifts may be many. Others can do for us what, in essence, we really cannot do for ourselves. That same principle, when we understand it and do something about it, will enable us to expand our effectiveness because we present a more complete set of gifts and capabilities.

But many leaders are uncomfortable working for very long or very loosely with people who are different than themselves.  We like to associate with others who are similar. We gravitate toward people who have the same type of interests, the same preferences, and the same temperament.

This proves my point. To try to multiply yourself through others who are just like you will only multiply the inefficiencies and the inadequacies. It will not compensate for them.

But there is another point. All leaders are terminal. No one will outlive themselves. Your tenure in your position (indeed, in life, too) is finite. You have a unique capability at this point in time that can serve your company or organization well.  But change is needed.

As gifted and capable as you are, there will come a time when someone with a different take on things will be needed to move the company or organization to the next level. Admittedly, leaders (especially politicians) have a hard time with this. Once we arrive at a place of power we tend to stay there, even when our effectiveness begins to wane. In the last post I wrote about this.

Those leaders who are most effective at developing capable people never limit themselves to candidates who are essentially clones of themselves…and they never try to make their followers into replicas. Why?

Because carbon copies are always weaker and carbon copies of carbon copies are weaker yet. If you’re in a location where copies are made by machines instead of carbon paper, the same principle applies. Even a photocopy is not quite as good as the original.

Thankfully, in leadership this should not be the intent because we are developing people who can go and do what we cannot (and need not). We are dividing our work because we are handing off responsibilities to others whose gifts and talents can better handle them, thus freeing us to do those things we can uniquely do.


6 otherly competencies of a superlative leader

talk“Good luck on your new position,” said the outgoing chairman. “You’ll start heading towards your objectives, look behind you, and find no one there.”

“I don’t know why no one will help,” complained another leader. “Surely they can see I am overloaded. I can’t understand why they don’t step up and pitch in.”

If there is a number one always present failure in leaders, I would say it is in the competencies or rather lack of competencies they have in working with others. It seems to be endemic among leaders, who are almost always observant and aware and actively involve themselves with the job at hand, that those leaders expect others to be as observant and aware as they are.

But they seldom are.

Indeed, superlative leaders possess highly competent skills in relating to and working with others. Here are six ways they do that.

1. Communicate effectively and appropriately with others. Email and texting has its place, but effectiveness may preclude them. In a CYA (Cover Your A**) world, the desire to have a written record of communication has its place. But nothing works as well as a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation. Use email to summarize what you’ve talked about. Give enough information for others to do their job. Don’t use information or withholding it to control others. And don’t make people ask you the right questions. I’ve seen leaders dole out answers based on the question refusing to discern and intuit what the questioner really wants and needs. Many times subordinates don’t know what questions to ask, certainly won’t know all the nuances of a situation that they might need to respond responsibly.

2. Always develop others. Hardly anyone will be at the level of competence or commitment where they can respond to the demands of the situation without some adjustment. Superlative leaders actively and deliberately develop others around them. I am writing a course on this very subject which I will make available in a few weeks. Make this competence something you do on purpose.

3. Demand accuracy and truth. I wrote earlier about how the Allied chief of staff was informed about the evidence indicating a German offensive but the headquarters refused to believe it. The other side of the coin is to have associates who tell you only what they think you want to hear. Never tolerate sycophants. Insist that you are told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

4. Build and maintain relationships. Powers of persuasion need someone to persuade. Leadership is a people process. Our circle of concern is always bigger than our circle of ability. Tools and technology will help us. People will help us more.

5. Manage teams and work groups effectively. This goes along with #4. The temptation to do it yourself is at times overwhelming and oft times more efficient. But in the end it’s less effective. You have neither the time nor the talent to do everything that has to be done. Your role and objective to become even more effective demands that your competencies extend to the ability to monitor and direct the work of teams you have in place.

6. Build bridges and deal with opposition. You can provoke antagonism or you can ameliorate it. You will have those who oppose what you do. Develop the competence to deal with it. Weak leaders resort to blame shifting, accusations, and playing politics. Strong leaders don’t.

On Thursday, I will sum up the competencies of a superlative leader with 6 universal abilities.

7 things every superlative leader understands about problem solving

what would you doRachel was a relatively new employee at a retail outlet. She was given the requisite week’s training in the training room and sent to the sales floor. Part of her job was to restock merchandise that had been returned. She had been on the job but a few days when an item was returned that was in a damaged box. She checked inside and saw that the manual was also missing.

As she pondered what she should do, the department manager stopped by to see how she was doing. She showed him the item and asked him what to do with it.

He did not tell her.

Instead, he asked, “What would you do with it?”

She thought for a bit, remembered the store’s policy on returns and a bin she had seen at the end of an aisle. “I would tape up the box, put a clearance tag on it marking that it is missing the manual, mark down the price, and put it back in that clearance bin.”

The department manager smiled. That was precisely the correct answer

Every leader is, by nature, a problem-solver. They look at life as a series of obstacles to overcome, issues to resolve, problems to fix. Many relish being the go-to guy, the person with the answers. That will eventually come back to bite you and it reveals two things about you and your leadership style.

First it shows that you don’t understand your primary role and objective as a leader. You are not there to do everything. You are there to be sure that everything gets done. You cannot possibly do everything that has to be done to get everything done. It is not possible…nor is it necessary.

Second, it shows a lack of ability or willingness to develop others. Withholding information that will empower others often signals a need to control. No control freak can ever become a superlative leader. Effective leaders are always giving away information and skills. They intend to equip others to do their jobs, to extend our own reach, multiply our own effectiveness, and divide our own work…and they do so on every occasion.

Superlative leaders are not problem-solution inclined. They are, frankly, a bit lazy.

If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (I recommend it to every leader or manager. Twice a day I send out a leadership tip in under 140 characters. Over 11,000 of your associates have, so why not follow me now? Just click here to follow me.) In a Tweet sent out last week I said to “Spend more time working ON your business and less time working IN your business. Delegation benefits everyone.”

Superlative leaders are competent problem-solvers…and they give others the ability and authority to solve problems as well.

1. Classroom training is one half of the training process. The other half is real-life, on-the-job experience IF it is accompanied by a sharp, confident, and competent on-site mentor. I am not advocating a throw them in the deep end and hope they can swim approach to development. I am suggesting a deliberate effort to sharpen the skills of trusted associates and employees.

2. Giving others the ability and authority to solve problems demonstrates that you can delegate and that you trust them to do the right thing. The converse is also true. Refusing to do so demonstrates a lack of trust and an unwillingness to train. You will limit your reach and inhibit your effectiveness – guaranteed.

3. Measure every problem brought to you and every problem you encounter. Whom can you train, whom can you educate, and whom can you empower to solve it? Someone somewhere in the organization should fit one of those three.

4. Knives get sharper when they are sharpened. People get better at what they do by practice. Training room training is one thing. Real life is another. Show them how and let them do it. If they make the wrong decision, do not scold or condemn. Train and explain, instead.

5. Never forget your two-sided objective – solve the problem and develop effective leadership around you. Reserve your problem solving to only those items that absolutely no one else can attend to, that absolutely no one else can handle. Give everything else away.

6. Ineffective leaders neglect their job of equipping others. Thus they limit their ultimate growth as a leader and as a company or organization.

7. Finally, the most superlative leaders may not be very good at leading followers but they are fantastic at leading leaders. And that is precisely how they become superlative, effective, and legendary.

7 traits of a great planner

todoIt’s time to become small minded. Visionaries are big thinkers. Planners may make big plans but they think small. They take the grand scheme of things and turn it into smaller steps.

Planners are comprehensive thinkers whose skillset includes the ability to break things up into increments and whose experience has shown them the necessity to be rational and realistic. Fantasy thinkers will soon get themselves into big trouble here so practicality is the keyword.

I want a big thinker to formulate vision and I want that same big thinker to leave the planning process to people who can be real and realistic. Here are the 6 key traits of an effective planner:

First, an effective planner can take a project apart and divide it into realistic tasks, tasks that can be assigned a responsible party and a realistic deadline. They understand that the greatest of structures is put up one piece at a time. And they can install warning points along the way to keep things on track and on schedule.

Second, they function in the “now” and in the “then.” They think and work short-term and long-term. The use whatever tools they need to maintain progress towards the ultimate objective. Daily tasks lists are coordinated with and subordinated to annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly calendars.

Third, they do not wait until deadlines approach to begin. They start early because experience has taught that almost nothing goes off as planned and if anything can go wrong it will.

Fourth, effective planners never work in isolation. They use the considerable skills and insights of others who could be in a position to add insight, understanding, and information.

Fifth, they are good delegators. The larger the plan, the more people needed to fulfill the objectives. Micro-managing will torpedo everything. There will be too much to do. Remember that your circle of concern is always bigger than your circle of ability.

Figure 1
Figure 1


Sixth, effective planners are tenacious but not hardheaded. They know how to focus on target and responsibly pursue it. But they are not so infatuated with their own ideas and plans that they become inflexible and rigid. Plans often need revising so “Plan B” is ready. Effective planners can think on their feet and make revisions as needed without losing sight of the objective or compromising the project.

Seventh, they never promise more than they can deliver. Some workers (and in some cultures) it is considered rude and uncaring to tell a superior or coworker anything except what they think the other person wants to hear. But this is a dangerous practice. Effective leaders never suffer sycophants or yes men. Never! Effective planners never engage in such foolish acts either. Never!

Now, it’s time to be honest. If you meet these 7 criteria, great! If not? Well, you know what you have to do. Find someone who does. The vision is far too precious to risk anything so get the best planner(s) you can find to help you bring it into being.

5 phases of your role as leader

Illus 1
Illus 1

The expectation that leadership can be a singular role is unrealistic. We wear a lot of hats. We manage, we motivate, we correct, we monitor, we inspire, we facilitate, we coordinate, we focus, we bark, we growl, we whisper, we articulate, we define, and we execute.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about our position of responsibility at the top of the organizational system. Then I wrote about our place out front, the visionary whose outsight provides direction and focus to the energy and the efforts of the team, department, business, organization, or company.

Earlier in this series I’ve written about strategies to implement the vision and the tactics that provide tasks lists and daily objectives for everyone. This is where the majority of our work will take place.

Check out illustration #1 again. Your oversight takes on two dimensions. The inspirational and motivational side of your work depends upon the capacity of those who work with you, your associates and employees, to grasp the purposes of your business or organization. If they had the vantage point you have and the understanding you possess, your job would be simpler and easier.

But they don’t.

And they shouldn’t. Indeed, they can’t.

Your position at the top and out front equips you for your role at the bottom. Yes, you do have the enviable place of prestige and visibility as the “head” of your department, company, or organization. Yes, you do have the visibility that comes from being the point man (of course, I know that you very well might be female but the term point person seems unwieldy so permit me the non-sexist use of the humanitarian “man.” If point person makes this more palatable, then please read it as such.)

But I can tell you from experience that most of your time will spent in the execution of the strategic plans at the tactical level. And therefore much of your roletriangle leader function version 2 as leader may indeed be consumed by managing the people and the things they do, the things they should do, and the things they do that you don’t want them to do. Who would of thought that your climb to the top places you most often at the bottom?

The principle at play here is:

“To get what you EXPECT you must be faithful and diligent to INSPECT.”

How that is done is the subject of much we talk about in leadership circles and the next topic on the horizon here at The Practical Leader. This diagram illustrates where your role works itself out in real life.

Yes, you and those who serve in management do indeed need to control process, contain expenses, and monitor progress. Yes, you do need to engage your top-level people and focus on the producers within your organization. But because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability (what you want to see completed is more than you can do yourself) you must employ others both in the “Let’s hire some people” sense and in the “I’m overwhelmed and need to learn how to delegate better” sense.

The director of one organization I worked for followed his mantra of POTC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control. It worked for him, somewhat at least, but he was highly suspicious of the competence of anyone and everyone he’d hired so he spent most of his time and energy controlling. The work suffered because he simply could not leave anyone alone and it bottlenecked at him who had to assign, monitor, and approve almost everything.

But control is necessary to an extent and only to an extent. If you are a control freak I can predict that your organization will stifle and suffer. I want to add two more letters to the POTC mantra…another C and an F.

POTCC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control, Coordinate and Facilitate.

Effective leaders know very well how to coordinate and facilitate the efforts of those who work with and for them. They know how to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned (BTW that is the subject of my next book due out later this year).

Those five letters P –O –T –C –F outline the next several posts. Planning is up on Thursday. See you then.